A Different Sea-When the World Has Moved On – A Poem by Melissa Murphy

Grief softens

it shifts

it changes

it erupts

it cripples, it heals but is never healed.

It is a constant companion in all the shapes and forms and intensities it takes.

The loss takes everything

…all at once.

And anything you have left is taken up simply by continuing to breathe.

Continue to breathe.

A single breath followed by another single breath.

And continue from your side of this life, in the silence of your own breath, to embrace the one you love who died.

Continue to include that love in all that you do and you’ll begin to hear their whispers in the wind, you’ll feel their presence brush your cheek, they’ll paint magnificent gifts in the clouds just for you and for all the world to see.

For those who notice.

Many won’t.

Not until they do.

Not until their own hearts are ripped by loss, when the grief introduces them to gravity.

It will happen.  It does happen.  To everyone.

It’s just your turn to walk before them.

They haven’t abandoned you.  They haven’t turned their backs.  They have continued living their own lives as they did before yours crumbled around you and pulled them in for a time.

We don’t come together for life.

We come together and drift apart so there are spaces for new connection.

Healing begins to happen in those spaces.

The tide comes in and leaves some things struggling in the sand

What’s left when the tide returns is rejoined with the sea but it’s a new sea, not the sea that left you struggling in the sand.

—written by Melissa Murphy

file7

A Fluttering of Ashes

It’s taken me 18 months…

…to learn to again look at people’s faces, even into their eyes, when I’m at the grocery store and to smile at the same time and mean it.

…to be able to have a conversation with a stranger, or a new client, without mentioning Dannica’s passing of my own choice. For so long, that has been who I am, how I define myself, and it was important to me that everyone within screaming distance knew it.  The distance has softened.

…to learn to gently place the trauma of Dannica’s passing in a box, of sorts, and set it aside long enough to have a good day.

…to hold myself compassionately when I can’t seem to put that same box down in order to have even one good hour.

…to feel I have anything in me worth offering others.

…to again find joy in being of service.

…to accumulate the energy to be of service in the first place.

…to consider myself ready to begin going through Dannica’s belongings and to begin recreating her room as a Precious Hollow within our home.  A beautiful, quiet place of reflection and comfort.

…to officially and fully reopen my holistic healing practice.

…to embrace the challenge of redefining, even releasing completely some of the many relationships in my life now that everything has changed.

…to smile and feel overwhelming love while standing in certain places and at certain times that even a month ago would have crumbled me again.

…to again hold myself compassionately when I smile, feel that love and then crumble anyway.

…to truly understand that while loss, death, grief & mourning are in the cards for each and every human being on the planet (past, present & future), each and every human experience of these things is unique and individual.  We sympathize, we empathize, but we never truly grasp the experience of another.  On Mother’s Day, 2014, a neighbor stopped by.  She also lost a child, which I didn’t know until I saw her face the morning following my Dannica’s passing…the story was in the paper.  The tears in her eyes, the look on her face… she was the first I encountered who *knew*.  She’s in her 70s now and I don’t know her story other than it’s been quite some time.  This Mother’s Day, though she wasn’t here to check on me (I don’t think), I couldn’t help asking, “Does it ever get easier?”  She smiled sadly and her eyes filled with tears before she answered, “Not much.”  I told her, “I don’t know your story, but I do think of you.”  She replied, “Well…we all have our stories.”  She left it at that.  Perhaps it’s a generational thing.  Perhaps she’s simply shared her story enough times for her own good.  Regardless, I admired the wisdom that emanated from her as she took me into her arms and allowed me to sob without needing to know my story, either.

It’s taken me 18 months…

…to realize that in the face of another’s loss and grief, I feel as helpless and awkward and terrified of saying the wrong thing or offending someone as anyone else, despite what I have experienced.  How do you hug someone who’s been burned from head to toe?  You can’t!  No matter where you touch, it’s devastatingly painful.  A grieving person is a burn victim with wounds you can’t see.  Every interaction is a mine field and simply sharing your own story isn’t necessarily the balm that soothes.  This is *never* easy for anyone on any side of it…well except for the ones it’s easy for and they’re the ones you just have to ignore to the best of your ability and then do something extra nice for yourself simply for having survived their presence.

It’s taken me 18 months…

…to spread a safety net over the mine field that is my own experience of loss and grief.  To give people a break and the benefit of the doubt the best I can, to realize that even as I explode inside and rain down fiery cinders that could easily ignite the earth with ferocity, they really *do* mean well and genuinely feel what they’re trying to convey.  There truly are no words adequate enough to express my grief or another’s sorrow at the fact that I am experiencing it.

It’s taken me 18 months…

…to do a normal thing and have it feel in any way normal.  By this I mean pulling weeds, having a client session, a phone conversation, paying a bill, buying eggs.

…to do more normal things because it’s finally beginning to feel better doing them than it is to avoid doing them.

…to realize the extent to which I had been carrying the grief and/or guilt of others with regard to my daughter’s death and to set those down so I could begin to feel the actual weight of my own grief & guilt.

…to come up with appropriate answers to the question, “How are you?”  The easy answer is, “Fine,” but the real answer is a million shades of shattered!  It’s not a pleasant experience when you’re fighting for air or trying to persuade your heart to beat just once more, and again, and maybe once more.

…to again realize how amazing is the man I married; the same poor guy I recently roasted on a spit in teaching him simply not to ask me the above question while I figured out how to answer it for anyone else who asked it.  He’s saved lives in letting me be as angry as I need to be.  He’s hurting, too.  I love him dearly.

It’s taken me 18 months…

…to realize that there is no tricky answer that will ever avoid fully answering the questions, “Do you have children?” “How many children do you have?”   The only answer that feels authentic is the real one.  I have a son, he’s 23, he’s doing this and that and I am happy for him and so proud.  I have two amazing step sons, they’re doing this and that and living in Austin, Texas and I love them so much.  And I have a daughter (the tears well up) she was killed in a car accident 18 months ago.  This June she’d have been 20.  I cry a little.  It is the real me.  I don’t have to pretend I’m okay with it.  If I can’t be the real me with another person, I can’t heal.  I don’t want to intentionally make another feel uncomfortable but if they were intentionally filling space with small talk, well, maybe they’ve learned a little something too, and maybe they’ll show me a little of their own authentic they.

It’s taken me 18 months…

…to understand that I never know how I’m going to feel day to day, let alone month to month or year to year. Last holiday season was a deep dark pit covered over with reeds and branches waiting for me to fall into it.  This holiday season I’ll watch my step and do my best to remember what I’ve learned along the way.  I am planning ahead…this may not be the year to light everything up and go all out.  But it has the potential to feel more peaceful than the last two.  Eventually, there might be another one that feels “normal” and includes other normal things like phone conversations, paying bills, buying eggs… sending cards or maybe gifts.  Maybe.

It’s taken me 18 months…

…to again feel that I have more I want to get done in this life than I probably have time to accomplish.

…to understand the depth and breadth of the depression that has spanned a great deal more than the 18 months since I last held my daughter, Dannica, close and smelled her hair and heard her say, “I love you, too.”

…to begin reconstruction of my faith.  Early on, someone asked me what this loss had done to my faith and I told them it only made my faith stronger.  If he’d asked me what I had faith in, I’m not sure I’d have had an answer.  The tears in his eyes told me he had none left for himself.  A bit later, I did lose my faith; lost it completely and have only just begun to find it again.  When God takes your child, it can become incredibly difficult to trust in anyone or anything but suffering, sorrow, and pain.

It’s taken me 18 months…

…to trim the fat from my life while adding it to my body.  No news is good news and good news is even better!  I’ve worked not only the past 18 months but especially the past 18 months to eliminate negativity from my life in any way I can.  I’ll call that trimming the energetic fat.  As for the other sort, well… there’s a reason “comfort food” is, well, comforting!  While it is absolutely not allowed as a condolence to me with regard to Dannica’s passing, I hereby allow the condolence, “It was just her time,” should that time come for *me* soon as the result of all the bacon and goldfish crackers I’ve eaten in the past 18 months. (This one even made my doctor laugh.)  You now know the menu for my own ‘celebration of life’ ceremony, as well.  My blood pressure, I am thrilled to announce is perfectly normal!  I credit Celestial Seasonings Zinger teas as it sure as hell ain’t my diet.

If you’ve followed my blog, you know I recently gave up entirely on the idea of myself having a thing in common with a Phoenix other than being burned to the ground.  I have started, however, to become aware of the ways in which I burn myself to the ground and the ways in which I keep myself un-huggable.  I’m working on those things just like all the other things I’ve mentioned.  Isn’t every process of life just that?  A process?  How to know when it’s done… I suspect it can’t be known because it can’t be done.

In my grand Phoenix analogy, I somehow managed to forget that the poor creature burns to the ground again and again and again in a never ending cycle!  Here I was thinking of being burned to the ground as a one time thing…the worst thing imaginable.  Naturally, in that mindset, rising would be a one time thing, too.  A triumph over the process.  But it’s not; not a one time thing and not the worst thing imaginable and not a triumph.  In the grand scheme of things, it’s no big deal.  It happens all the time, over and over and over, like being Hollowed Out… it is simply a process known as the Experience of Life on Earth.

Don’t get me wrong.  Nothing makes my Daughter’s passing okay with me.  I will *never* be over it.  At some point though, in every grief process, even the worst imaginable, the soil warms a little.  Eternal winter hints at something else.  Within the ash, there is a flutter.

I have been Hollowed Out many times in 18 months; so Hollowed that I was blind to the Phoenix that did rise, more than once, only to be burned again to the ground.  Perhaps 18 months is the time I needed to see the pattern emerge.  I was standing too close.  I was standing in the fire…again.  I couldn’t see…again.  The smoke is just clearing…again.

I would like to end this post with a message I received from a dear teacher of mine this past week.  She admonished me and others to acknowledge the sorrow we have experienced but also to look for the door of freedom that sorrow opens.  As we give intent for this door to open within our own lives, despite the sorrow, we begin to experience the sacred opportunities that are born from our challenges.  Our experiences transform themselves, when we allow it, into a gleaming column of wisdom that makes future challenges, future sorrows, lighter burdens to bear.  This, in turn, creates more opportunities for us to be of service to others.  And that is what I believe is really the reason any of us are here.

A final thought:  This is my path which is why I say it’s taken 18 months for ME to experience what I have.  Please, be gentle with yourself and know that whatever the time frame, you’ll get there, too.  We’re on the same path.

To the Dear Ones Who Comment

Thank you.  I so appreciate your comments.  I know I’m terrible at responding but when I’m done writing I feel so drained I need to step away.  I log on and I read the comments and I cry and feel connection and love and support from a family I don’t want to be a member of.  Then I feel guilty for not at least acknowledging those who reach out to comfort me or to share their own pain and process and I feel so much for you all in return; so much love, and I feel your pain and just like everyone else, I have no words.

Many have nominated me for this or that blogger award and I want you to know I am flattered, honored.  I don’t have the energy to participate.  My ego doesn’t need the strokes.  I’m too tired to “pay it forward.”  I know that sounds terribly selfish, but I’m doing this for me, for my own process, my own healing, my own discovery.  The fact that it’s actually touching other human souls touches my own human soul *deeply* and in a way, keeps me going.  I’m learning I’m not alone.  I’m learning others feel exactly as I do.

Thank you.  I hope you’ll keep talking to me even when I’m “one poor correspondent, and too, too hard to find.  It doesn’t mean you ain’t been on my mind.”

Maybe It’s Enough

So I’m not a phoenix rising.  So I’m perfectly human.  So I’m not amazing even though everyone told me I was.  So the world has moved on without me.  So I’m only able to drag myself through half a job.  I do love that job…that’s something.  That’s something.

So the dreams I had for myself have passed on, too.  So I’m mourning things I can’t even begin to express (in addition to my daughter’s life).  So I’ve been touched by this life just like everyone else has been or will be.  So I drag myself through half a life.  Sometimes, I love things about this life, such as it is… and that’s something.  That’s something.  Isn’t it.

So despite the flowers blooming and the trees budding out in the world, it’s still winter in my heart.  So it’s been winter in my heart for more than a year.  So it may be winter in my heart forever.  So be it.  I have my blanket.  I have my slippers.  I have a fire to curl up in front of.  I have hot tea.  That’s something.  That’s something It is.

So my daughter has passed on.  So she took half my heart with her and holds it forever wherever she is.  Maybe people can live with half a heart.  They live with one kidney and I have two of those.  I gave birth to two children.  I have a son, a beautiful, precious son.  So my daughter’s passing took half of his heart, too.  Together we have a whole one.  That’s something.  That’s something.  That’s everything.  Now.  And I LOVE that.

So I rest at the end of the day, with my two hands over my half heart.  It’s quiet.  It’s still.  I hear the rain and I remember the flowers.  I think there’s hope.  I like that.  Maybe that is enough.  So it has to be enough.  Maybe it is.

Sometimes the Phoenix Doesn’t Rise

If I’ve learned anything at all since I started writing this blog it is just how human I truly am… and how much I hate that sometimes. I knew it was possible to become stuck in anger, to become bitter, to push life away but I never actually believed I’d go there. I looked at that potential even in the moment I understood that Dannica had died, and I told myself I’d never go there.

I used to be one who tried to make eye contact with people and smile for no reason, not only during the holidays, but especially during the holidays. I used to stand in the middle of a place and radiate light out in all directions, healing & well-being for all. I worked hard for a long time to get there, to love life, to release negativity in all its forms, to find my own happiness in life even when life kept being….well life….  a challenge.  The truth is, I have fought depression and social anxiety most of my life; maybe all of it. Sometimes, I have won. Sometimes, I’ve lost miserably. Sometimes, like this time, I’ve just given up. Too tired to fight it.  Too tired even to try.

I have become, once again, the ones I used to see and wonder about.  The ones that looked down or away.  The ones who’s hearts I wanted to reach with those free and carefree smiles of hope, love, acceptance and compassion.

In the beginning, fresh grief filled me with a fearlessness I’d never before known. Once I stopped screaming because my daughter had died, I kept on screaming at life, “BRING IT ON!!  YOU WANT SOME OF THIS!?  COME AND GET IT!” I wasn’t afraid of anything. I was angry and it was normal. It gave me strength. It gave me courage. I had nothing but faith in the resilience of the human spirit…. my human spirit.  I thought of myself as a phoenix and all I could focus on was rising even as almost everyone around me said, “Go slowly, be gentle with yourself.”

I didn’t go slowly and I wasn’t gentle with myself even when I thought I did and I was.  Instead, I went boldly into places, I can see now, I didn’t really belong and I made a fool of myself.   I learned that I’m not a public speaker.  I’m not cut out to be a teacher, though I really felt, somehow, I was.  In fact, at 45 years old, I’m not sure I’m cut out to be anything other than perfectly human.  I’ve given up on dreams. I’ve extinguished hopes.  I am alone in my own little world as often as I can be and most of the time I like it that way. At least I know what to expect from my own judgment and my own pain. It’s comfortable even when it hurts.

Could this be acceptance?

I don’t want this blog to be filled with negativity.  But I do want it to be filled with honesty and, when I can find it, truth.  I’m going to keep writing, even when I feel horrible, because writing gets it out of me.  I understand if that puts you off, if you’d rather avoid the negativity altogether.  Life is hard enough without someone else’s negativity.  For this reason, I don’t watch the news, I read my local paper only selectively, and I have even ended seemingly good friendships when I felt the person never had anything positive to say.  So I *do* understand why I’ve lost contact with many people I thought were friends since my daughter’s death.  I realize that I am depressed.  With that comes negativity.  I do my best not to dwell there when I am with others.  But I’m only as strong as I am and a lot of the time I’m exhausted, I’m grumpy, God help you if you cut me off in traffic or say something stupid to my face.  And I *hate* feeling this way!!!

For now, the phoenix is down.  No sign of rising.  None. Unless you cut me off or say something stupid.  Please, know I am genuinely sorry.  I am.

Autumn’s Fall

A year and four months following my daughter’s accident and passing, my mind is still easily consumed by the most traumatic memories of that evening.  The smells, physical sensations, the taste of my tears, even the sounds are all gone but for a few:  The sound of the EMT, “Get her out of here!”  The doctor’s voice, “There’s no easy way to say it she’s dead.”  My son’s cry, “No! No.. No…no…no.  Even when I try, I don’t get it all back.  But the images.  The images are bright and clear and vivid and silent across the dome of my mind.  I am standing right there under the dome.  I see everything over and over and over and over again bigger than anything I’ve ever seen but the night sky.  It is no wonder I am exhausted still.  The physical, conscious effort it takes to push my mind in any other direction seems to me a superhuman one.  It might be easier to bend steel or stop trains.  If only there really were a Superman to reverse the spin of the planet until my Dannica was alive again where I could hold her tight and, this time, keep her safe.

November 14th 2013, one year.  We lit candles.  Many, many candles.  I don’t seem to be able to recall more.  Remember, I’ve only just dragged my mind and spirit up from the sea floor.  It’s rusty now and full of silt and reluctant to try.  The part of me that once obsessed with documenting everything doesn’t care about that now.  So I’m losing details at four months out and I’m sorry about that.  Ask me anything you want about sixteen months ago, though, and I can give you everything.

SweetTeva

November 20th 2013, we had our dear German Shepherd, Teva, put down.  It was horrible.  It wasn’t a peaceful passing and it was devastating.  I could see it in her eyes as her sweet spirit left her body, “Why do you want me to go away?  I would NEVER leave you!” … she didn’t understand.  How could she?  The next day was my birthday.  The year before, that day was the day of Dannica’s memorial service and the day after that, Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving a year later I cooked.  I like to cook once in a while.  It was always Dannica’s gift to set the table.  She starched and artfully twisted cloth napkins into fans or candles or bishop’s hats and added flowers or glittering leaves and made the table so beautiful.  I tried.  My napkins wouldn’t cooperate.  This year they were frustrated rectangles.  I bought fresh flowers but couldn’t make myself glitter anything.  Dannica’s place was set with the flowers, candles, her photo…  it was okay until it was time to eat.  It was quiet.  I couldn’t talk.  I couldn’t eat.  I tried not to, really hard I tried not to but then just cried.  Of course, I’m so grateful for my husband and for my son.  Of course I am.

For a minute I wanted to do Christmas the way Dannica would have done Christmas.  I wanted to deck every hall and light up the place, every space.  For her.  But my heart and mind were giving each other the silent treatment and trying to get me to take sides.  My heart won… my heart wasn’t in it and we did the best we could to find a little joy and I think we did.  A little.  It will never be the same; any of it, ever.  How could it be?

2013xmastree 004  2013xmastree 002

Happy New Year.  Yes, happy new year.  I was happy to see the last one go, anyway.

On Hollow

AYearWentBy

When I created this blog, I didn’t have to think of a title, it was just there.  It was the first thing that came to my mind because it was exactly how I felt; completely hollowed out.  It didn’t take me long to realize that I wasn’t done being hollowed out.  I actually believed, in that moment, I couldn’t get any more empty and yet that is when the words began to flow, like my tears… or Doritos.  “…we’ll make more.”

Breathing out and out and out until I cannot breathe out any more.  My body starts to panic, my cells begin to starve, I could keep breathing out and out and out until my life passes from my body completely but then I gasp, against my will to continue breathing out until I am empty.  And then I give up and just keep breathing in… and in… and in.

In this moment, hollow brings to mind deep and mysterious forests, dark and quiet woods.  Dear but dirty little people wearing rustic, raggy clothing, cooking simple meals in kettles over fires.  I find the thoughts and images they create to be comforting.  As a child these ideas inspired endless hours of adventure.  The hollows were places I actually wanted to be.  The hollow of an old tree, the hollows inside bushes, the hollows between branches of the christmas tree, the tiny bathroom I would “sneak away” to write in my first 5-year diary complete with lock and key, pretending it was a hollow elsewhere, the hollow in the perfect limb of the apricot tree where I watched people walk by below never knowing I was there even when they were looking for me.  Later, the hollows were nooks.  A breakfast nook in my and my husband’s first house, a reading nook in the study downstairs.  The nook that is my bed, where I sit now, surrounded by pillows and a canopy.  These are the places I’ve always sought out, felt comfortable with, curled up in.  Never have I actually *been* one of these places until now.

I look around and it’s very dark.  It’s very quiet, but for this heart beating against my will, but for these sobs softened from screams of despair that echo from the walls at a distance I can’t quite fathom…returning and returning until they’re only whimpers and then I hear only the tears falling to the floor like a leaking pipe.  There is nothing soft here, nothing cozy, nothing comforting.  Not really.

Today is the 10th of March, 2014.  I sat to write, having forgotten I’d written the above on November 10th, 2013.  I had intended to post this on the one year anniversary of Dannica’s passing four months ago on November 14th.  But I didn’t.  Instead, I tied a heavy stone around my mind and my spirit and I tossed it into the sea and watched it sink until the bubbles no longer surfaced and then I walked away.